Marco Rubio, the Republican senator who famously criticised Donald Trump in 2015 before endorsing and supporting the latter’s presidency, will introduce a bill to the US Senate to allow shareholders to sue corporations for prioritising ideology over their duty to maximise profit. The “Mind Your Own Business” Act would, according to Rubio’s website, “require corporate directors to prove their “woke” corporate actions were in their shareholders’ best interest in order to avoid liability for breach of fiduciary duty”.
Rubio’s intentions with the bill are to begin the fight-back against the woke ideology which has permeated many aspects of our society, from knee-taking at football games to diversity, inclusion, and equity (DIE) mantras dominating the workplace. With this measure, he seeks to allow shareholders to hold management accountable for “woke social policy actions”. Christopher F. Rufo, a progenitor of the anti-woke, anti-CRT movement in the US, has described the bill as “a brilliant approach that will unite the conservative movement”. His theory is that the free marketers will appreciate the bill’s stated intention of maximising shareholder value, while those opposed to the left’s cultural movement will be able to use the bill as a means of stamping wokeness out of companies. Rufo’s previous efforts to wage war on the left include an effort to ban teaching critical race theory (CRT) in schools, a move that painted with an extraordinarily broad brush and threatened freedom of speech in the process.
This legislation is misguided and potentially ruinous for two main reasons. The first is simple: Rubio and his blatantly ideological agenda are not able to define where “woke” ends and “profitable” begins. Nike has made a fortune out of Colin Kaepernick; perfume and clothing companies have made conscious efforts to increase the diversity of their models to appeal to broader demographics; and how many businesses could you name off the top of your head that got involved with Pride 2021 and LGBT affairs (if only for the month of February)? Companies are free to do as they please, and shareholders already understand that the clear cut division between “wokeness” and “maximising profit” does not exist; in this virtue-signalling age, one may require the other, lest corporations be left behind or cancelled for not being woke enough. It is up to a majority of shareholders to decide whether that is the right decision to take: allowing a shareholder to sue a company because they subjectively disagree with a subjectively “woke” decision is a recipe for chaos, and will turn board meetings into campus culture battlegrounds for no sensible reason.
Furthermore, the bill legitimises the argument that many woke anti-capitalists have been making: their conspiracy theory that the mechanisms of capital uphold white supremacist patriarchy are only reinforced when a bill such as this shows their paranoia to be correct. This bill, by supposedly uniting the strength of capitalist profiteering with an assault on wokeness, proves to the left that capitalism is actively working to destroy everything they believe in, rather than being a system of economic organisation (or lack thereof) which benefits everyone by allowing liberty and choice to flourish. Rubio’s bill allows lefties on college campuses to say “Ha! I told you capitalism was engineered to oppress us!” without getting to the root of the problem: wokeness must not be legally engineered out of the workplace, but it must be shown to be the fickle, contradictory and misguided pseudo-religion that it truly is. Waging legal war against the woke won’t do that: time, experience and good arguments will.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with a corporation appealing to woke sentiments, social media campaigns, and online trends to break into new markets and access new potential customers. In fact, a savvy entrepreneur would weigh up the potential pros and cons of doing so and would perhaps decide that the risk of wading into culture war territory was worth it for the potential gains. What would happen if one rogue and highly opinionated shareholder were to disagree with anything adjacent to wokeness, even if it were to be a profitable decision? Chaos could erupt in meetings across the country for years and maybe even decades to come, and for what? Despite the ubiquity of “cultural Marxism”, it is rarely of any substantial consequence. The culture war rages on, the wheels of capital keep turning, and the world keeps spinning.
We are all exhausted by the usually DIE mantras and the conveyor belt of woke phrases and meaningless gestures (which are in all honesty designed by university professors to make minorities feel better while not actually achieving much at all). Perhaps we would prefer that companies did not kowtow to the latest woke fad in order to survive the brutality of a Twitter mob. But our frustration with wokeness and virtue signalling cannot cross the legal boundary and interfere with a corporation’s private affairs in such a blunt and damaging manner. Rubio’s bill claims to represent both conservative and capitalist interests, but his is a blatantly anti-capitalist, partisan and reckless move which threatens corporations and shareholders more than it helps them. Rubio should abandon this foolhardy endeavour, and maybe stick to minding his own business.